Category Archives: safety

My Take on the Mary Poppins Effect

How much does your outfit and bicycle affect how drivers treat you?

Lovely Bicycle talked about the Mary Poppins effect in January and London Cyclist brought it back to my mind with a recent guest post from Bike Thoughts From A Broad (love that name!).

For those who are not familiar, the Mary Poppins effect is basically the idea that drivers are nicer to women bicyclists riding upright bikes with dresses and flowing hair. I haven’t read much from men about this, but maybe dapper men on city bikes get the same deference.

My daily experience cycling in Chicago supports the Mary Poppins effect. Generally, drivers treat me well enough that I feel somewhat … respected? or patronized? *shrug* Both are fine with me, as long as I’m safe. Of course, there are always the assholes outliers, but for the most part drivers are okay.

My only disagreement with the general hypothesis is helmets. A major contributor of the Mary Poppins effect, others have posited, is riding helmetless and with free-flowing hair, because of both the relative vulnerability and the “regularness” it exhibits. I wear a helmet ~ 98% of the time I ride in traffic by personal preference and I receive as much deference, if not more, than someone without. The key is a fun and distinctive helmet – red hearts! pink starbursts! Having a distinctive helmet causes drivers to recognize me, and it’s hard to be rude to someone you pass daily.

The Mary Poppins effect is especially on my mind now because I experienced a lack of the effect today. Typically I wear a dress or skirt, but today I wore a navy pinstripe pantsuit with a ankle strap on my left leg. Everything else was the same: I rode an upright Danish bike, wore a helmet covered with red hearts and rode with my typical calm assertiveness, but luxury SUV after luxury SUV after car passed me too closely. The effect was decidedly non-Mary Poppins.

Could simply wearing pants instead of a skirt lead to such a noticeable change in drivers’ behavior? Maybe. Was I more sensitive to the idea of the Mary Poppins effect due to my recent reading? Perhaps. But I felt like there was a marked difference in how drivers treated me, during both the morning and the evening commutes.

I’m really interested in what others have experienced. Men, women, pants, skirts, helmet, no helmet – have you noticed a Mary Poppins effect, or lack thereof?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Post-Blizzard Bike Ride Details

Yesterday I posted pictures I took while playing in the blizzard and I mentioned my bike ride the day after the storm. Here is a detailed account of that ride and a look at the blizzard’s not-so-pretty aftermath.

After pulling Oma out of the garage and into the alley, I began doubting my decision to ride my bike one day after 20 inches of snow poured down on Chicago.

The condition of the first street I came upon did not increase my self-confidence.

However, I had a plan to take arterial streets that I usually avoid due to scary car traffic. I knew they would be plowed and a bit calmer than usual, and I was right.

Once I reached my destination, I just had to find a parking spot…

This bike called dibs way earlier. I’d say he earned it.

Luckily I found a bike rack that was not totally consumed by snow.

Once on foot, I realized that bicycling in the road was much easier than walking down un-shoveled sidewalks.

Well, except for streets like this one. The side streets still had a ridiculous amount of snow.

Want some?

Overall, the ride was a pretty low-key adventure. My intimate familiarity with the area, bicycling confidence and studded tires helped the situation. For sure, I was happy to return home at sunset, safe and sound and feeling a little bad ass.

Today I biked 10 miles roundtrip to work, plus a couple of miles during lunch, plus a few more miles tonight to see the Decemberists play a live show (so good!). The rides were more stressful and obstacle-course-like than usual, especially when some [censored] honked at me, but enjoyable nevertheless.

Now what’s that news story about a groundhog seeing his shadow?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How Preparation and Maintenance Affect Winter Bicycling

Trisha’s post yesterday about the difficulty of riding in Nashville after snow has me thinking about the important role that city preparation and maintenance play in winter commuting. If streets are not cleared quickly after a storm, even a modest snowfall can ruin several bike commuting days.

Southern cities are getting more wintry weather this year than they’re equipped to handle. I heard on the news that Atlanta has 8 snow plows; in contrast, Chicago has hundreds. I assume road salt is in similarly limited supply.

Without salt and plows, Trisha has to walk her bike over large icy patches in Nashville

On top of this, Southern bicyclists are likewise less equipped to handle the weather, as there’s usually not enough snow to justify purchasing snow tires or studded tires. This results in more of Trisha’s commutes in Nashville being thwarted than mine in Chicago, despite the much greater snow totals in Chicago. You can see this happen with Bike Skirt Elisa’s commute in Alabama, too.

Meanwhile, this week in Chicago, I took one day off bicycling when the snow was actively falling on Tuesday. The next day, after 5 inches of snow, all but the small side roads had been cleared of snow and ice.  Plus, to handle any surprises, I have studded tires.

Streets are reasonably clear a day after a Chicago snowstorm

Unfortunately, the bike lanes are still a complete mess, which is something the city needs to work on improving, but at least I could ride in the main lanes safely.

Unfortunately, bike lanes are mostly ignored in the snow-clearing process

Therefore, it seems like so far this winter, snow and ice have been more problematic for bicyclists in the South than in areas to the north that regularly get snow.

Of course, I have not forgotten about the crazy blizzard action going on around New York and New England. How long does it take after one foot of snow falls before roads are reasonably clear for bicycling?

And for everyone else, feel free to leave a comment stating your location and how well your city has been dealing with wintry weather this year.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In Defense of Studded Tires

I must say a few words about a post on Copenhagenize that ruffled my feathers. I’m a huge fan of Copenhaganize, but the internet is all about criticizing people for every little imperfection, so I’m taking issue with one small part of one post in the Copenhaganize archive. The post is called “Cycling in Winter in Copenhagen” and starts out nice enough until this part:

“And no bicycle studs were harmed in the making of this blogpost. I never see them here and wouldn’t possibly know where to buy them.

When you have as much urban cycling experience as the people of Copenhagen or a city like Amsterdam, you are pretty much trained to cycle in any weather. I’ll just let my fellow citizens do the talking…”

He then shows numerous photos of Copenhageners riding along in the snow, a beautiful and inspirational sight. However, look closely and you will notice that every picture shows the bicyclists physically separated from motor vehicle traffic.

Photo (c) Mikael Colville-Andersen

May I submit that the use of studded tires by people like, ahem, me has a lot to do with the high risk of serious injury that comes with a slip? As in, if I were to slip on ice during my work commute, it is more likely than not that a car, truck or SUV would immediately run me over.

I am not a fearmonger, but hundreds of huge, speeding vehicles pass me within a couple of feet every day.  I have a good idea of what would happen if I were to fall beside one of them. A lot of my cycling friends in Chicago feel okay riding without studs, but I prefer the peace of mind that comes with them, along with the ability to ride on any day and any route, regardless of the weather or the city’s thoroughness in plowing.

My bicycle route: unprotected bike lane full of ice, directly next to heavy car and truck traffic

A calm part of my bicycle route, where unfortunately SUVs love to squeeze by me

Moreover, cycling experience does not prevent one from slipping on ice. I have lifelong experience walking, but I still slip and slide on icy sidewalks. Ice is slippery.  Mikael himself has acknowledged “some slip-sliding moments and fishtailing” while riding his cargo bike in the snow.  Sure, I don’t mind slip-sliding or even falling when I’m on the lakefront bike path, but a cavalier attitude about such is not advisable when sharing the lanes with cars.

I’m certainly not telling everyone to buy studded tires or advocating for laws requiring their use or creating stickers announcing “you’d look studlier in studded tires.”  But in defense of those who use studded tires, I’m pretty sure such use is not based on lack of urban cycling skills or the general inferiority of goofy non-Danes.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The LGRAB Guide to Winter Bicycling

Do you want to be as happy this winter as Mr. Snowman?  Ride your bike!  There’s nothing like spending time outside engaged in physical activity every day, enjoying the crisp air and scenery while everyone else hibernates.

We won’t claim that winter cycling is always a big party, but it’s certainly not the nightmare scenario that most seem to imagine.  As with any activity, knowledge is power: the more you understand about biking in the winter, the more comfortable you’ll be and the more you’ll enjoy yourself.

As we enter our third winter of biking and blogging, our archives offer a wealth of information for new and experienced winter cyclists alike.  Hence we bring you the LGRAB Guide to Winter Bicycling.

Seriously?

Yes!

What should I wear?  A spacesuit or footie pajamas with ski goggles or what??

That’s the easiest question to answer: absolutely, but only if you can rock it.  Otherwise, you may want to stick with your normal winter clothes.  Once you see the basics of how to dress for winter cycling, you’ll say, “aha” and move on.  You may even find that dressing for winter cycling can be effortlessly chic.

Like all superheroes (be prepared: co-workers will call you that), you will have a weakness.  For example, freezing fingers, but it is possible to keep hands toasty warm.  Embrace your weakness and then overcome it.

What about the awful weather?  Rain, snow, wind, ice, freezing cold?

Take it one day at a time.  Some days fluffy snow creates a winter wonderland and bike paths are perfectly plowed.  Other days the snow is dirty and nasty and in the bike lane.  At the extremes, you may set out on your bike and then give up due to ice or extreme cold. No shame in trying!

Your winter may consist of a lot of cold rain, but luckily women don’t get Jane-Bennet-ill from cold rain anymore, especially if you know what to wear.  Just make sure that your brakes are in good shape.  Then on the rare days when it snows, riding could be a fun adventure.

If the weather on a particular day is really bad, simply choose not to ride that day.  The most important thing is that you honestly differentiate reasons from excuses.

Or maybe you live in Southern California.  If so, #@!% you.

I slip walking down the sidewalk.  What chance do I have on a bicycle?

A really good chance, actually.  The roads, maintained by the city, are in much better condition than sidewalks.  Once plows come by after a snow, main streets in the city are generally clear and dry.  Depending on your city’s climate and your preference for sidestreets and bike trails, you may benefit from studded tires.  Or if there’s just a bit of ice, you could simply walk your bike through the slick patch.

Doesn’t it get old, riding in the dark all the time?

Sometimes riding home from work in the dark everyday is a drag, but sometimes it makes everything seem quiet and calm.  Just make sure you are cognizant of safety and security concerns and have good lights.

I see you have fancy bikes.  I don’t.  So…?

While our Dutch bikes (WorkCycles and Batavus) are great for winter riding, due to enclosed brakes and chains, a fancy bike is not necessary for winter riding.  In fact, some people intentionally use old beaters for winter.

Most bikes in good condition would make decent winter bikes, although some may require more caution and more maintenance.  Be aware of what kind of brakes and tires you have and ride with caution in bad weather accordingly.  If you have old steel rims, seriously consider replacing them.  Decide whether you would benefit from studded tires.  Remember that fenders are your friend and install some.

If you plan to ride extensively in the winter, investing in a solid bike is worth it.

Will I be the only crazy person out there?

Maybe you’ll be the only bicyclist out there, maybe not.  You may find and appreciate a whole winter cycling community or just enjoy the alone time.  Even if there aren’t many other winter cyclists, you’re bound to meet colorful characters and bloodthirsty dogs simply by spending a lot of time outside.

But can I really do it?

If we did it, you can!  For inspiration, check out a retrospective of the first winter biking.  Is winter cycling a simple act or sheer will? Both!

Hey, it’s really cold.  Why am I doing this again?

Because winter bicycling will change your life.  You will better appreciate the differences between summer and winter cycling (for example, not smelling like B.O).  You will feel the yin, the yang, etc.  By season’s end, you will shed grateful tears over the first buds of spring, the first delicate bird’s nest.  Also, for hot legs.  Obviously.

How can I verify that you’re not lying to me for kicks?

You really can’t – welcome to the internet!  But other resources are out there pretty much verify our advice.  See, Bike Winter. Also, those other bike blogs listed to the right.

Anything else I should know?

The secret to bike commuting (hint: it’s not that bad).

If you have questions or would like to leave your own winter bicycling tips, please share in the comments!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Women in Motion

Streetsfilms created this wonderful short film, Women in Motion: New Lady Riders Reflect on NYC Cycling. The film highlights women who started riding their bikes only recently, inspired by the new infrastructure and growing number of other everyday cyclists.

Meanwhile, Steven Can Plan highlights numbers showing that the frequency of Chicago women riding their bikes to work is down this year.

Trisha and I have been bicycling for 2.5 years now. I suppose we’re slowly but surely becoming members of the old guard, but our message remains the same: anyone can start bicycling for transportation right now, even if they have never done it before. And the goal of sharing our experiences is to encourage more women to start and continue to ride bikes.

We bloggers can’t do this alone. As the news above from NYC and Chicago shows, safe bicycle infrastructure is a major factor in whether people will ride their bikes. If you agree, make sure to contact your government representatives and let them know how important bicycle infrastructure is to you!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

More Ups and Downs – and Doubling Up

I’m going to continue with my “ups and downs” theme from Tuesday because it fits so perfectly.

On my way home from work last night, taking busy city streets, I rode by a group of people giving out free lights to cyclists. Up!

Dressed for 35 degree biking (thanks for the belt, Trisha!)

Not a half mile later, a driver passed me and then immediately swerved hard to the right to go around another car waiting to turn left. The maneuver put his speeding car dangerously close to my front wheel, causing me to scream and slam on my brakes. Soon the driver was stopped behind 10 other cars waiting for a red light. As I rode by, I looked in and saw a 30-something guy tapping away on his iPhone. This was too much for me to bear, so I tapped on his iWindow. He looked up with surprise and rolled it down. I said, “That was very scary back there.” He reacted with complete cluelessness and I calmly informed him that he very nearly hit me when he sped around the car just a few seconds ago. He apologized profusely and said that he never saw me.

Holy hell!! If that’s even true, it does not make me feel better. I kindly suggested that he pay attention to the road and then I turned onto a side street, anxious to get away from the rush hour madness and allow my hands and voice to stop shaking. These drivers are totally out of control. DOWN!

La Oma

But wait! Don’t give up on humanity yet: this is an overall positive post.

After that debacle, I met my friends and fellow oma-owners, Janet and Dan, for hard apple cider and sweet potato fries at a neighborhood pub. Up!

Afterward, this amazing husband-wife team demonstrated doubling up on a bike, with Janet sitting side saddle on the back rack and Dan pedaling. They made it look so easy and elegant! Then I got a chance to ride on the back rack – my first time doubling up. It was so much fun! Learning this skill is now high on my to-do list. Janet has graciously offered to be my trial passenger this weekend. Stay tuned for more detail as this progresses. There will be video. UP! :)

What have your ups and downs been lately?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ups and Downs of Bike Commuting

I’ve written before about the ups and downs of bike commuting. A year later, I’m revisiting the theme based on the ups and downs I experienced during the past two days.

Down: Last night, as I was riding up Lincoln Avenue, a major bike route, a woman in a van yelled, “Ride in the bike lane, retard!” Wow, really?? For the record, I was riding on the outside line of the bike lane because otherwise I would be in the door zone. Regardless, anyone who would yell such awful and ignorant words at anyone is a miserable person. Incidentally, wouldn’t Chicago be so much better if everyone felt safe to ride their bicycles, including the developmentally disabled? I think so!

Up: Tonight, a woman standing on the sidewalk whistled and called out, “Hey, I love your bike!” while the men with her nodded in appreciation. The fact that they were outside a cool live music venue and not a tool-central type of bar doubled the impact of the compliment. I smiled and called out, “Thank you!” :)

I’m pretty sensitive, so I can’t help but be affected by such incidents, but really, no matter what someone may or may not yell at me, I always prefer my bicycle over any other form of transportation. If someone offered me free daily door-to-door Towncar service with complimentary muffins and NPR, I would turn it down without hesitation.

If you doubt me, check out the scenery from my ride this morning.

The temperature was in the high ’30s, but with a dress, a wool sweater, tights, boots and gloves, I was set.

For some reason, a lot of the “citizen cyclists” seem to have packed it in for the winter already, leaving me and a bunch of guys on road bikes. Just as I was thinking, “Gosh, everyone out here is in spandex going really fast,” my friend Dan rode by on his WorkCycles Oma and stopped to chat. (You may recognize him as top hat guy from the cocktail ride.) I love that in a huge city like Chicago, I still run into people I know regularly via the Lakefront Path and bike lanes.

A little later, a guy on a WorkCycles Opa rode by and rang his bell. I don’t know if he’s a reader (hi!) or merely a fellow Dutch bike appreciator, but it was great to see!

Back to the “ups and downs” of bike commuting. This I know for sure: I’m totally enjoying the up of autumn before the down of a long winter. Oh, who am I kidding? I kinda love winter, too!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Collision on the Lakefront Path

For the first time in 2.5 years of daily riding in Chicago (that’s at least 10,000 miles) I had a collision with a person today – as opposed to train tracks or ice. Both parties involved are fine, although my knees are a bit banged up.

While riding on the Lakefront Trail after work, I saw a skateboarder ahead of me and I slowed to make sure he was not doing anything squirrely. Once I saw that he was maintaining a straight line to the far right of the path, I moved to the opposite lane to pass. I did not ding my bell as I usually would because I saw that he had headphones on and I felt comfortable that he would maintain his line. Just as I got directly next to him, without warning he turned sharply to the left, crashing into me. I felt like I was tackled from the right, as he and his skateboard pushed me and Betty Foy sideways for a few feet, before I bailed/fell, landed on my knees and caught my upper body with my hands.

As this happened in apparent slow motion, I first thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” and then “Control the fall, control the fall, control the fall.” I think I did a good job of preventing worse injury. I was not in danger of hitting my head – or my teeth! – and two skinned knees isn’t so bad.

The college-aged skateboarder was very sweet afterward. He was perfectly fine and wanted to make sure that I was okay. He apologized over and over again and said that it was all his fault because he did not look before turning. I also apologized to him and said that I should have rang my bell or something before passing. He continued to insist that it was all his fault. Although technically that is correct, I should have been even more cautious before passing, maybe by calling out and making sure he knew someone was behind him, regardless of the fact that he had headphones on. I have a hard time understanding how someone could make a maneuver like that on a crowded multi-use trail without signaling or even looking, but the fact is – this guy did. I need to remember to expect the unexpected. As the least vulnerable user on the trail, I have the most responsibility to watch out for other, more vulnerable users (although it seemed like a pretty fair fight between burly skateboarder guy and me).

My gut reaction to the situation was kinda goofy: I was concerned primarily with reassuring the guy that I was totally fine and getting back on my bike and away from the situation. With the adrenaline pumping, I did not take the time to examine myself or my bike, instead jumping back on and finishing my ride several more miles to my destination before taking stock. I’ve heard from others who have had the same type of instinctual reaction after a collision. Luckily, everything was fine, except my bloodied knees and torn tights. Sadly, no one other than the skateboarder stopped to ask if I was okay, not even the cyclists going by.

On to the positive stuff about my day.

Oma group at Sunday's brunch: me, Samantha and Janet

My destination was dinner and drinks with three cycling ladies, Janet, Molly and Samantha, two of whom also ride WorkCycles Omas. Nothing cures the jitters of a collision like steamed mussels, garlic frites and Belgian beer, plus having an understanding group with whom to rehash the events. It was nice not to have to contend with any tsk-tsking about how dangerous cycling is. That’s certainly a huge bonus to having bikey friends.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

It was a dark and stormy night

Last night I was going to a business meeting. It was nearby, but the sky was dropping spittle that seemed likely to turn into rain, and I had to transport a manuscript. As I considered the pros and cons of bike and car, I was met with this sight:

special delivery

Clearly a sign from the universe, right? (The Mustang is my car.)

Scolding myself for even thinking of driving the short distance, I grabbed Le Peug and set off. We got to the meeting only minimally damp and right on time.

But apres, le deluge. Which I and my vintage suede suit jacket were not ready for. It has been months since I’ve ridden in the rain—have I mentioned it has been a dry fall?—and I had totally forgotten how hard it is to see when rain is flying in your eyes. That was bad enough, but then I tried to stop at a stop sign and realized that Le Peug’s slightly weak rear brake, which I have been meaning to fix for a couple of months, doesn’t work at all when the rims are wet. Worst scare I’ve ever had on my bike—I almost threw myself off because I was sure I was going to end up in front of an oncoming car (until I thought of just turning right instead of going straight as I had intended).

Against the odds, we made it home.

so much for that good hair day I was having

Clearly I can’t read signs from the universe.

Tagged , ,

A Critical Mass: bicycling as a social movement and the importance of working together

If you ride your bike, you are part of an important social movement.  Regardless of your level of involvement in any organized effort, this movement would be impossible without your participation.  We, as people who ride bikes, are the only ones who will look out for the interests of bicycling as a viable form of transportation.  Most people who drive everywhere never give bicycling a second thought, and I’m not holding my breath for politicians lobbied by oil and car companies to take proactive steps.  Therefore, bicyclists working together and agreeing at least on the very basics (bikes = good) is essential.

Melissa rides her bike

The issue is on my mind this Friday morning because of great efforts that our friend Melissa has taken to create positive change in her suburban town of Auroral, Illinois – and the subsequent blowback she’s received from a sport cycling club and vehicular cyclists.  Melissa is not some political strategist, she’s a woman who rides her bike, feels that the roads should be much safer and is doing something about it.

There will be an organized ride in Aurora on Sunday afternoon that Melissa and others have publicized as a critical mass ride, Aurora’s first.  This ride has already garnered much attention, including an article in the town’s newspaper and a follow-up article today.  Both articles are pretty positive about the event and bicycles.  Unfortunately, the response from subsections of the bicycling community has not been as positive.

First, she received a message from a certain suburban cycling club, stating that they would never participate in or support an event that carried the Critical Mass name and did not follow all traffic laws.  They also suggested she get a permit from the city of Aurora – a permit to ride bikes in the street.  Then, in the follow-up article a vehicular cyclist is featured to give an argument against bike lanes.

“It’s not that Klenke doesn’t support better access for bikes, but he says, “Lanes don’t address education, training and attitude for cyclists and motorists to coexist. They’re a feel-good panacea that likely worsen the problems instead.” He referred me to the book “Effective Cycling” by John Forester, who, according to Klenke, “cites studies that suggest bike lanes lead to increased car-bike accidents and are inherently destructive to traffic management.”

On top of this, there are the typical mean-spirited comments at the end of the article from drivers about bicyclists.

I understand where anti-Critical Mass cyclists are coming from.  The event can create hostility in drivers and sometimes, with a big enough crowd, lead to unruly behavior.  However, the ride on Sunday will be a group of cyclists exercising their right to the road in a lawful manner – nothing more, nothing less.  If the ride were not called “Critical Mass,” would anyone have paid attention?  Would the newspaper have written two articles about the ride before it even took place?  A critical mass is an appropriate description for the purpose of the ride.

I understand where vehicular cyclists are coming from.  Bicyclists should be empowered to ride in the street with the rest of traffic.  But bicycling will never become a widespread mode of transportation in America without bicycling infrastructure.  Vehicular cycling may work for a very small minority, but telling a parent toting kids or an elderly woman to get out in the street and fend for herself will not work.  I feel even more strongly about this after visiting France and seeing the bicycling infrastructure – and people on bikes – in every city.

People who ride bikes – and people who want to ride bikes but do not feel that the roads are safe enough – have to work together for change.  Debates within the bicycling community are both important and inevitable, but there comes a point where rifts stall progress and play into the hands of those already-powerful groups working to maintain the status quo.

So I have a simple request.  Could we all in the “bicycling community” agree that people riding bikes lawfully down the street in the hopes that others will note their presence is a Good Thing?  Otherwise we are stalling our important social movement.

Sunday.  2 p.m.  West Aurora High School.  I’ll be there.

{If you would like to thank the writer of today’s column, Deena Sherman, for bringing attention to this issue, you can reach her at deenasherman@att.net.}

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The Good of Bicycling Far Outweighs the Bad

Yesterday there was a blip on the radar screen of my good commutes. On my way to work, I had to call a company and report that one of their transfer trailer drivers passed me within 4-6 inches. I’m not sure why he was in such a rush, because very soon afterward, he pulled over and parked in the bike lane to make a delivery. Lucky for me, this made it very easy for me to read both the company’s phone number and the license plate number, as well as take pictures. Although my hands were shaking, I managed to stay calm and the woman on the phone was nice and helpful. All I want is for the report to be maintained in the employee’s personnel file, in case others complain of his driving. Any employer should take such reports seriously or risk legal liability if their driver ends up hurting someone, especially since there is a law here requiring drivers to pass bicyclists with three feet of distance.

But that was only a blip. I’m so happy when riding my bike around and I adjust – as I must – to the reality of the situation. These photos are from my commute home on Thursday (taken with my new vintage SLR camera).

Look how beautiful riding a bike can be. By the evening commute, all was right with the world again.

My spirits were further lifted by reading Velouria’s post, Everybody Loves a Lovely Bicycle. The pictures are beautiful and she reminds us that “beautiful bicycles can lift our spirits” and make passersby smile. I remember that for every one jerky driver, there are hundreds of considerate ones, including the occasional woman who rolls down her window at a stop light to compliment my basket or ask about my bike, plus all the pedestrians who spontaneously smile when they see my Oma cruise by.

So bike love all around :)

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

LGRAB Safety Tip #1

Witnessed this morning on my way to work while waiting at a red light:

  • Guy zips by on fixed gear; screeches to halt in front of crosswalk.
  • Performs track stand, showing off bike tattoos on each calf.
  • While our light is still red, inexplicably jets into intersection of busy 4-lane road.
  • Makes it across one lane before coming thiiiiis close to being creamed.
  • Slams on brakes inches from car.
  • Driver going through intersection with green slams on brakes.
  • I stare in horrified shock.
  • Bike guy throws middle finger high in air in indignation.
  • I am even more horrified.
  • Every driver and pedestrian who witnessed the scene now hates bicyclists.
  • Five seconds later, light turns green and I continue on my merry way to work.

LGRAB safety tip #1: before riding, remove head from arse.

LGRAB safety tip #2: stop at red lights.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Bike Commuting in a Severe Storm

A severe storm hit Chicago unexpectedly late yesterday afternoon. Hurricane-force winds up to 77 mph, torrential rain and hail blew out windows in the Sears Tower and downed trees and powerlines. Guess where I was when this happened? Yup, riding my bike home from work.

When I heard about the approaching storm, I decided to leave work a little early to beat the storm home. Soon after I set out, rain began falling. The further I rode, the heavier the rain and winds became. I could feel a little hail. Stubbornly I pushed on – soooo close to home, I kept telling myself. Half-way home the wind and rain were so strong, I had to slow considerably. Then I rode on the pedestrian-free sidewalk in case the wind blew me over. Two-thirds of the way home, the wind and rain became literally impossible to ride in. I realized that trying to ride my bike was pretty crazy and dangerous. My stubborn nature is usually an asset when it comes to biking around Chicago, but sometimes it makes me stupid. As I locked my bike outside a (conveniently located and cozy) pub, lightening and thunder hit so closely that I screamed.

Safely in the pub, I commiserated with some other stranded folks, emptied the water out of my shoes and rung out my skirt and shirt, and ordered a pint. Nearly an hour later the rain and wind calmed down enough for me to ride the final 1.5 miles home. That’s when I took these photos. A similar storm hit around 10 pm but I was tucked safely inside.

The moral of this story is: don’t try to beat a severe storm home or at least have a cozy pub to duck into if necessary.

I have lots more to say about this day, which included the Bike to Work Week rally, David Byrne’s bicycle forum and hanging out with bikey friends.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Stop, Collaborate and Listen

Yesterday morning, I fell in with a group of cyclists commuting to work, about six in all. Half-way to work I lost them, as they ran all the red lights and I stopped for all the red lights. As I was waiting for one red light by myself, the group already far ahead, three guys on bikes zipped by me, barely pausing for the light. A woman in a small SUV waiting beside me (about my gram’s age) said, “It’s so nice to see one bicyclist follow the rules of the road – and look so cute doing it. I love your basket!”

My gut reaction was to protest and stick up for cyclists. I could have said, “And it’s so nice to have one driver be nice to me.” But I did not want to be snarky with the well-intentioned woman and, really, there was not much I could say in defense of bicyclists, given the display witnessed moments earlier.  Instead I answered, “Thanks!  I wish more cyclists would.”

We as cyclists need to shape up. There are too many of us in Chicago to continue ignoring traffic laws, especially red lights. I understand the argument that sometimes it’s safer to jump a light instead of idling among trucks, and I’m not going to pretend that I never treat a red light as a stop sign (and don’t even get me started on stop signs). However, there are too many safety, legal and PR reasons not to ignore red lights and general traffic regulations in the city.

On the bright side, lots of bicyclists ride safely and conscientiously. This morning’s commute was totally different from yesterday’s, as the mini-pack of female cyclists I fell in with stopped at all red lights and fostered a calm and happy atmosphere. However, the bad apples are the ones who stand out the most, be they bicyclists or motorists.

What do you think about your city – is it reaching a critical mass where lawless cyclists are embarrassing? Is it time to start putting more pressure on other bike riders to embrace both the rights and the responsibilities of the road? And if so, how do we avoid playing into the hands of the crazed, mouth-foaming masses who use cyclists’ red-light-running to excuse the most abhorrent driving behavior?

Will it ever stop? Yo, I don’t know.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jerk Season

I am tired. Of aggressive and ignorant jerks. Guys in Land Rovers who pass dangerously close. And then roll down the window to lecture me on how I’m not supposed to be riding in the middle of the (small one-way) road. Because they are faster. Therefore I should move over. Never mind that riding up against parked cars is the most dangerous way to ride in the city. They need to pass me and that’s all that matters. Because they are so fast, even though somehow I catch up with them at the red lights.

They tell me to “share the road.” Which means stay the fuck out of their way. Because they have “their side” and I have “my side.” Which apparently is the gutter.

I wish. I wish I wish I wish that these guys (always guys) would leave me alone to get home in peace. And that I could stop my blood from boiling every time they bother me. Stop myself from reacting. Why do I let them get to me?

I am a woman peacefully riding a happy bike. In a dress. In the dark. In the rain. In my neighborhood. What is their problem?

Five months of daily winter riding – not one problem with a driver. Now in the summer all the jerks come out. Maybe Chicago is too aggressive for me. This type of scenario should not be normal.

{I was planning to use these pictures to talk about my lovely ride to see the Evelyn Evelyn / Amanda Palmer show. Too bad all of that changed one block from home.}

Tagged , , , , , ,

Getting Serious About Bicycling Safety

How much of the push for bicycling is about encouraging people to be braver, rather than actually fostering a safe and welcoming environment for cyclists?

An editorial in The Times (UK) by Janice Turner, which Copenhaganize brought to my attention, has me pondering this question. My observation is that there are more cyclists on the road now than before, but the cyclists are overwhelmingly of the type expected to engage in perceived risky behavior – young males.

An Example of Chicago's "Bicycle Infrastructure"

Chicago's Bicycle "Infrastructure"

This morning a pack of cyclists accompanied me on my commute. They resembled a rag-tag peloton, shuffling for position, weaving around traffic and speeding through intersections. Of the dozen or so cyclists in my proximity, not one was a woman and not one appeared to be wearing regular work clothes. The evening commute featured a few women. (You can read more about my regular commute here.)

Mind, I am not criticizing this group. I appreciate them and their presence on the road. My criticism is for a transportation system that fails to accommodate a more diverse – and risk averse – group of people on bikes.

As individuals, Trisha and I don’t have the power to build infrastructure or enforce traffic laws. Therefore, the best we can say is that, despite the awful state of cycling infrastructure in North America, the U.K., Australia, et al, you should ride your bike and enjoy yourself. While we show that cycling is not as difficult and dangerous as it seems, mixing it up with cars every day still takes courage. For every woman who tells us that our blog inspired her to bicycle regularly, there must be several others who were inspired to try, but gave up due to fear.

Even the most conscientious and experienced cyclist is not immune to danger. For example, last week my husband Greg was taking the lane to pass a stopped bus safely, when a car driver squeezed around him, hitting his arm with the car’s side mirror and causing his body to bang against the passenger door. The woman sped away. Thankfully, he was able to regain his balance and escape injury. The responding police officer was respectful, but said there was nothing they could do without a full license plate number and witnesses. That woman cared so little for the man I care for the most, apparently knowing she could behave this way without legal consequence. Even if the police could have tracked her down, we would be lucky if she received a warning ticket.

Of course, no one is immune to danger. Life can be risky, and certainly I would not put bicycling on a list of high-risk activities. If I thought otherwise, no way would I be out there on my bike every day. I am risk-averse. However, there is so much that could be done to make bicycling safer, both objectively and subjectively.

I love bicycling. I usually feel safe riding in Chicago. I hope this blog helps counter the negative and ugly rhetoric that so often accompanies bicycling discourse in media and society at large.  But every now and then, inevitably, I am frustrated and disappointed by the failure of governments to provide a safe place for all road users.

Many citizens have answered the call to be braver, and in the process have found themselves healthier and happier. There is a beautiful momentum of regular people on bicycles, and failing to acknowledge our growing numbers with a comprehensive plan to foster a safe and welcoming environment would be criminal.

I worry over Ms. Turner’s conclusion in the Times article that “a big fat flaw at the heart of democracy is that politicians will never invest in the long term if voters’ initial inconvenience and expense are not rewarded with results before an election.” If that is always the case, we will never move forward.

As of now, we are here. Whether in dresses or lycra, on Dutch bikes or fixies, we are all getting around in a way that benefits ourselves, society and the environment. Will the government embrace us or desert us?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Chicago Loves Bikes!

Chicago loves bikes.  It’s official.

My morning commute yesterday felt like a group ride!  For more than half of the way, I was in a line of 9 cyclists going down the bike lane.  Our spontaneous conga line caused stares, double-takes and smiles.  How could people not consider cycling as a valid form of transportation after seeing so many bikes all around them?  Snowball effect – more riders beget more riders.

On the way home, I spotted my friend Elizabeth.  She had pulled over to chat with the owner of De Fietsfabriek, so I pulled over and joined them, and then we rode home together.  On the way, we saw three bike cops ticketing a van for being parked in the bike lane.  Overhead in a stern voice as we passed, “See, all these bicyclists have to go in the lane around you.”  Today on Streetsblog I saw this video to train Chicago bus drivers how to interact with bicyclists.

I feel that everything is coming together to create a real place for cyclists in Chicago.  The cyclists themselves: out in droves.  The drivers:  expecting cyclists and behaving respectfully.  The infrastructure: far from perfect but following the 2015 Bike Plan and better than almost all other North American cities.  Law enforcement, city government, and Da Mayor: working for us.  The sun: shining down approvingly on all of it.

My giddy optimism is so bright this week!

Do other Chicagoan have thoughts on this?  Bicyclists in other cities – how do you feel about your place on the road and in the community?  Any other optimists out there?

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

In Honor of Free Flowing Hair

I love the feel of wind in my hair. Wearing a helmet robs me of that joy.

There. I said it.

I’ll spare some time and energy by saying for either side: 1) You won’t feel so good with your brain splattered on the pavement; or 2) Stop wearing the silly foam hats, then.

Now that the generic stuff is out of the way, let’s talk for real.

Trisha's hair enjoying the wind

Springy weather (40 degrees!) has me yearning for the feel of free flowing hair. This yearning is nothing new. My desire is less prominent in the winter, when the helmet warms my chilly head, and most prominent on the hottest summer days, when my hair is matted and soaked by sweat.  Regardless of the weather, I would always prefer the feel of the wind in my hair.  Carefree, childish, happy, free: bicycling gives me all those wonderful feelings and a helmet clamped on my head counters those feelings to some extent.

This must be an issue that lots of cyclists – men and women – deal with, but there is so much emphasis on practicality, statistics and sides.  I’m simply saying, “I want to feel the wind in my hair!”  An innocent wishful statement, nothing more or less.  Heck, I’m currently growing my hair long so some of it can flow about while my helmet’s on.

Dottie's hair trying to grow

As two girls who ride all the time and almost always wear helmets, can we just have a moment of silence for free flowing hair?

…Okay, now you can speak up  :)

Tagged ,

Trail to Nowhere

The most enjoyable and safest way for bikes to travel is separated from auto traffic. I don’t want to share the road with one ton vehicles going three times my speed – I have to. A trail or separated path is always my first choice.

Trail - Melissa

Trail - Melissa

Unfortunately, such infrastructure is absent most places. The paths that exist are often trails to nowhere, with a focus on recreation. Other problems include lack of lighting at night and lack of snow plowing in the winter.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 56 other followers